Saint Seiya Brave Soldiers is a tie-in to one of the iconic superhero animé from the 1980s; a team of ancient Greek themed heroes fighting mythological monsters with magic and martial arts. The series has earned a strong position within Japanese pop culture, as well as limited popularity overseas, and was recently remade with the ongoing series Saint Seiya Omega. That the recent video game tie-ins choose to ignore this modern remake – which is widely available streamed legally online in English – and focus instead on the 1986 original series makes them of somewhat more limited appeal overseas. There is not the same nostalgia – and nostalgia is vital in enjoying many of these kinds of game tie-ins – for the series among Western audiences, meaning the game must stand much more strongly on its own merits.
Brave Soldiers is at first sight an effective reboot or refining of Sanctuary Battle, the previous PS3 Saint Seiya game; its engine is very similar and it uses many of the same mechanics in its fights. Indeed, given both games initially cover the same arc of the TV series, playing the story mode of Brave Soldiers feels like a slightly simplified boss rush version of Sanctuary Battle. The previous game was cut from the cloth of Dynasty Warriors, with a mixture of one-versus-many combat sections and one-on-one boss fights, while Brave Soldiers removes the mass combat to make a fighting game of the series. However, the combat mechanics are not significantly improved in depth; there are the same light and heavy punch combos and the same one-button special moves at the core of the action, and many of the opening fights take place in open arenas devoid of anything to interact with. This is not an arena-based game in the vein of Power Stone or Anarchy Reigns where the emphasis is on cinematic combat involving the scenery, but instead an awkward midpoint between the traditional, Street Fighter-esque fighting game and the 3D action game. As a quick, accessible fighting game this works; it will be unsatisfying to players who enjoy the depth and reflex-testing complexity of traditional 2D fighters, but Brave Soldiers sits well at the easier, less serious end of the genre.
The simplicity allows a large roster of characters; the game encompasses several plot arcs of the source series, and much like the Dynasty Warriors games the reduction of movelists to a small number of combos and a few special moves allows for the easy creation of a diverse cast. At the same time, though, this makes some matchups very unfavourable; balance suffers as a result of the simplicity of the game. Because there is much less freedom in linking moves together, and combos are generally fixed in length and order, the game becomes quite predictable and sometimes the animations do not tie up perfectly to the hit-detection; a similar problem plagued Anarchy Reigns, where some larger or slower characters had significant trouble actually landing hits because of how the game worked on a fundamental level. This is not as great a problem as it could be, but it is a very visible limitation of the game that shows the shortcomings of trying to create a simplistic fighting-game. While 2D fighting games are inherently complex, the complexity makes for a better game for beginners and advanced players because the player has much more control. In a game like Brave Fighters, too much has been streamlined.
Visually, the game has a very clean cel-shaded aesthetic which does not suit the more heavily-lined style of 80s animation; cutins and animation stills used in cutscenes have much more character than the in-game graphics. Here, perhaps, taking aesthetic cues from the more recent remake – which had a much cleaner, brighter style and greater stylisation which would have translated into 3D cel-shading better – would have been an improvement. The style of 80s animé aesthetic which Saint Seiya uses does not translate well to simple 3D models. Similarly, the particle effects for the special moves feel underwhelming because of the straightforward aesthetic; they are functional, but compared to the potential the fighting-game genre has for flashy animations and detailed finishing moves, they are lacking. The audio is similarly unambitious; audio samples from the series are used untranslated, meaning all game audio is in Japanese with subtitled. This decision further cements the idea – given that the 1980s series has been localised in English in the past – that this is a very niche game, for an audience expected to have some attachment with the series, and that it is a very barebones package with all extraneous content cut for more characters and levels. As a result, it is difficult to recommend to audiences outside of fans of the series; nostalgia, or familiarity, will likely forgive many of the shortcomings.